Friday, November 11, 2011

“Sidetracked by Frigidaire”

c. 2011 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Sometimes, research for a story can yield unintended consequences – and a new writing project on the desk.

I stumbled upon one such example recently, while reading through the wealth of newspaper archives available online. My intent was to find interesting stories about Geauga County in these yellowed pages. But instead, a vintage advertisement caught my attention.

It came from a copy of the Painesville Telegraph, dated June 15, 1935:

NO DOWN PAYMENT – 15 cents a day will buy it for you.

Our Meter-Ice plan makes down payments unnecessary. Just come in and select the model you want: It will be delivered to your home with a little bank-like device called Meter-Ice, attached. Then you simply drop into Meter-Ice the required number of nickels and dimes each day. Once each month our representative calls, collects money and credits your account. When the amount collected equals the purchase price, the Meter-Ice is removed and the Frigidaire is yours.


It was like an odd detail peeking out from the background of a photograph.
“Meter-Ice?” I wondered out loud.

I remembered relatives in West Virginia having a natural gas-powered refrigerator. It was a nod to the distant era when many rural homes did not have electricity. But the memory of a coin box in the kitchen was one I had never heard before.
It sounded undeniably strange – dropping coins in a vending device to keep milk, potato salad, and bologna cool throughout the day.

Yet further research yielded more information on this interesting idea. And, a price increase:

Deposit 25 cents in Meter-Ice and Frigidaire will start and operate for 24 hours. You may deposit 25 cents each day – or you may deposit 11 quarters at a time which will give you 11 days’ refrigeration – just as you prefer. When your Frigidaire has been paid for we remove Meter-Ice and issue you a bill of sale. This is the soundest, safest and most attractive electric refrigeration proposition ever offered. Come in and say ‘I want one of the new Frigidaires that uses less current than a lamp bulb.’ It’s all so simple and easy you’ll never have missed the money. That’s the new Frigidaire. It’s a marvel of convenience, too, with automatic defrosting – automatic ice tray releasing – cold storage space – ¼ more storage space in smaller cabinets.


Early in the 20th Century, appliances like a modern refrigerator were priced out of reach for many families. The 1930 Frigidaire price book lists a model AP-5 at $292, for example. A Ford sedan from the same era could be had for around $500. But this unique, home-based business plan helped entice many potential customers into the new era of kitchen living.

The success of Frigidaire was overwhelming. By 1937, four million units had been manufactured and sold to the public. By 1941, that figure had swelled to six million.
The company’s ‘Meter-Miser’ compressor powered all sorts of devices from room air conditioners to beverage coolers, ice-cream freezers and water coolers.
Eventually, Frigidaire developed a line of electric ranges for cooking, and water heaters for home and business use. After WW II, their production exploded with postwar demand in the marketplace.

Yet this one odd detail was seemingly lost to history: the coin-operated fridge.
I was glad to have been sidetracked. And I looked forward to other such journalistic detours, in the future.

Comments about Thoughts At Large may be sent to:
Visit us at:


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home